Remember the Night

Remember the Night is a 1940 American Christmas romantic comedy trial film directed by Mitchell Leisen, and starring Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray. The film was written by Preston Sturges, and it was the last of his scripts shot by another director, as Sturges began his own directorial career the same year with The Great McGinty.[1]

Remember the Night
Theatrical poster
Directed byMitchell Leisen
Produced byMitchell Leisen
Albert Lewis
Written byPreston Sturges
StarringBarbara Stanwyck
Fred MacMurray
Music byFrederick Hollander
CinematographyTed Tetzlaff
Edited byDoane Harrison
Distributed byParamount Pictures
Release date
January 19, 1940
Running time
91 minutes
CountryUnited States


In the run up to Christmas, Lee Leander is arrested for stealing a bracelet from a New York City jewelry store. The Assistant District Attorney, John "Jack" Sargeant, is assigned to prosecute her. The trial begins just before Christmas, and rather than face a jury filled with the holiday spirit, Jack has the trial postponed on a technicality.

When he hears Lee complaining to her lawyer about spending Christmas in jail, Jack feels guilty and asks bondsman Fat Mike to post bail. Fat Mike assumes that Jack wants to force Lee into an affair, and after freeing her he delivers Lee to Jack's flat. Discovering that Lee is a fellow Hoosier (native of Indiana), and that she has nowhere to spend Christmas, Jack offers to drop her off at her mother's house on his way to visit his own family.

On the drive, Jack gets lost in Pennsylvania and the couple spends the night parked in a field. The next morning, they are arrested by the landowner for trespassing and destruction of property, and taken to an unfriendly justice of the peace. Lee starts a fire in his wastebasket as a distraction, and the pair flees. Lee's mother, a malevolent embittered woman, has remarried, and does not want anything to do with her daughter, whom she considers a lost cause.

Jack decides to take Lee home to spend Christmas with his family. She is warmly received by his cousin Willie, aunt Emma, and his mother, even after Jack reveals Lee's past. On New Year's Eve, Jack kisses Lee at a barn dance, and later that night his mother goes to Lee's bedroom for a talk. She reveals that the family was poor during Jack's childhood, and that he worked hard to put himself through college and law school. She asks Lee to give Jack up, rather than jeopardize his career, and Lee agrees.

On the way back to New York via Canada (to bypass Pennsylvania), Jack tells Lee that he loves her, and tries to persuade her to jump bail, but she refuses. Back in New York, Jack tries to lose Lee's case by harsh and aggressive questioning, to get the jury to sympathize with her. Jack's boss has been alerted to the affair, and secretly listens outside the courtroom. Realizing that Jack may damage his career, Lee changes her plea to guilty. As she is led away, Jack wants to marry Lee on the spot. She refuses, saying that if he still feels the same way when she has served her sentence, and he has had time to consider his decision, they can marry.



Remember the Night was the first film in which MacMurray and Stanwyck appeared together. They later co-starred in Double Indemnity (1944), The Moonlighter (1953) and There's Always Tomorrow (1956).[1][2] Stanwyck was to make a romantic film with Joel McCrea following the completion of Remember the Night, but she came down with a serious eye infection and had to withdraw from the project.

Willard Robertson plays Francis X. O'Leary, Lee's flamboyant lawyer who is said to be a former actor. Robertson was actually a former lawyer in Texas who turned to acting.

Development and production

Preston Sturges suggested "Great Love" as a title for this film. The script, which blends a number of genres, was a hard one to write, and Sturges joked that it caused him, "to commit hara-kiri several times". Like all of Sturges' scripts, Remember the Night included a number of elements from his own life, including the falling-in-love-on-a-journey motif, inspired by his experience with Eleanor Post Hutton on the road to Palm Beach many years before, and the character of Jack's tough but loving midwestern mother Mrs Sargent, based on the mother of his third wife Louise Sargent, right down to the name.[3]

Director Mitchell Leisen shortened Sturges' script considerably, both before and during shooting[1][4]. This annoyed Sturges, and one of the main reasons he was determined to direct his own scripts thereafter which he did beginning with his next project, The Great McGinty. Still, of all the films that Sturges wrote before he began directing, Leisen directed the only two films - this one and Easy Living - which Sturges bought personal 16mm copies of for his film library.[5] This film also contains a number of references to the earlier Leisen/ Sturges collaboration; for instance, in the supper club where MacMurray takes Stanwyck for dinner, the song "Easy Living" plays, and when Stanwyck gives a false name to a Justice of the Peace she uses 'Mary Smith', Jean Arthur's character in the former film.

Leisen's alterations to the script shifted the focus of the film from MacMurray's character to Stanwyck's. They also changed the character of Jack in line with MacMurray's strengths: In Sturges' original screenplay, the lawyer was a dashing, articulate and slightly theatrical character and Leisen felt that MacMurray didn't have the verbal abilities to pull his heroic speeches off. Instead, he cut much of the dialogue, and focused on the quiet strength MacMurray channelled so easily."[5]

Sturges summarized the film by saying "Love reformed her and corrupted him." The movie, he said, "had quite a lot of schmaltz [sentiment], a good dose of schmerz [pain, grief] and just enough schmutz [dirt] to make it box office."[5]

During shooting, Sturges hung around the set and got to know Barbara Stanwyck. One day he told her that he was going to write a screwball comedy for her, which he did just a year later, The Lady Eve. Stanwyck later recalled that she initially didn't believe Sturges' promise, as she was primarily a dramatic actress known for playing fallen women and femme fatales.[5]

Remember the Night was in production from July 27 to 8 September 1939. It was completed eight days ahead of schedule and $50,000 under budget, which Leisen attributed to Stanwyck's professionalism, saying "She never blew one line through the whole picture. She set that kind of pace and everybody worked harder, trying to outdo her."[5]


The theatrical release was well received. The New York Times reviewer Frank S. Nugent wrote:

It is a memorable film, in title and in quality, blessed with an honest script, good direction and sound performances ... a drama stated in the simplest human terms of comedy and sentiment, tenderness and generosity ... warm, pleasant and unusually entertaining.[6]

Home media

Universal Studios released the film on VHS on September 12, 1995 and on DVD on October 18, 2010.


Lux Radio Theatre presented a radio adaptation of the film on March 25, 1940, with McMurray and Stanwyck reprising their roles.

Lux Video Theatre presented a television adaptation of the film on May 5, 1955, starring Dennis O'Keefe and Jan Sterling. It was directed by Richard Goode and Buzz Kulik from an adaptation by S.H. Barnett.[7]

The story outline was used unofficially in an episode of the Barbara Stanwyck TV series The Big Valley ("Judgement in Heaven", Season 1, Episode 15).

Lifetime presented a television movie in 1997 titled On the 2nd Day of Christmas starring Mary Stuart Masterson and Mark Ruffalo, directed by James Frawley. The story is similar to Remember the Night.


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